Rossini, Gioachino Antonio

1792-1868

Famous Italian operatic composer; one of the brightest musical luminaries of the Nineteenth Century. Rossini was born in the year that Mozart died, at Pesaro, a small town on the Adriatic, and was the only child of Giuseppe Rossini and his wife, Anna Guidarini, who were in the humblest circumstances. Rossini's grandfather had once been governor and the boy came of musical parentage, his father being an excellent horn-player and his mother a very beautiful woman, with an excellent voice, which enabled her to sing secondary roles in traveling opera companies. Rossini's father was sent to prison, while the boy was very young, because of his openly expressed sympathy with the French at the time of the political troubles of 1796, and his wife then took her young son with her to Bologna, where she joined a traveling company of players. After Giuseppe Rossini was set free, he traveled with the same company as trumpeter, and while his parents were thus engaged, the young Gioachino was left in the care of a butcher and his family in Bologna. His father had taught him to play the horn, and also the rudiments of the musical art, but the boy showed such aptitude and love for music that his parents decided to give him every advantage in their power. He was taught to play on the harpsichord, also given vocal lessons by Prinetti, of Novara, remaining under the instruction of that master for three years. As a boy Rossini had an extremely sweet soprano voice and very often sang in the churches of the towns where his parents happened to be staying and also accompanied them  on their tours, playing second horn in the orchestra. He was finally sent to study music with Angelo Tesei, who interested  him in practical harmony, so that in a short time he was competent to accompany vocalists on the piano and to sing solos in church. At the age of seven he appeared at the theatre of the Commune, Bologna, as Adolfo in Paer's Camilla, with much success. About this time Rossini made the acquaintance of Chevalier Giusti, commanding engineer of Bologna, who took a keen interest in the young man's career, read and explained the Italian poets to him, and helped him to gain that fund of general knowledge that was to stand the composer in such good stead in later years.

After spending three years with Tesei, Rossini studied for a time with a tenor singer, named Babbini, but his voice shortly afterward broke and at the age of fifteen, he entered the famous musical lyceum at Bologna, studying counterpoint under Mattei, and shortly afterward took up the study of the cello with Cavedagni. At that institution, Rossini showed the greatest application and intelligence and the following year, 1808, he was intrusted with the composition of the annual cantata, which he called The Lament of Harmony over the death of Orpheus and which was produced with great success and received a prize. He was then an ambitious student of Haydn's symphonies and quartets, and of the compositions of Mozart, not only studying the works of these composers but scoring them. He hated the rules of counterpoint and his original method of working taught him much more than he could ever have learned in the old way. His teacher, Mattei, told him one day that he knew enough counterpoint to write operas, and as this was Rossini's only ambition, he shortly  afterward left the Lyceum, determined to devote himself to the work he had, chosen. For a time he gave lessons, acted as accompanist and conducted performances of chamber-music, and even attempted to conduct the concerts of the Philharmonic Society of Bologna. He shortly afterward renewed his acquaintance with the Marquis Cavalli, who had years before promised him his aid whenever he should need it. Cavalli was at that time the director of the theatre of San Mpse, at Venice, and through him, Rossini received an invitation to compose an opera for the manager of the theatre. The opera buffa, The Matrimonial Market, was the result and was produced in 1810 with great success, and marked the beginning of the composer's operatic career.